No fixed forms, no fixed rules.
You hear that over and over again when studying Yi Chuan. While enlightening to someone who has been repeating the same forms or moves over and over again for years that phrase can be daunting when deciding what to do with your precious practice time.
Over the years I have developed a recipe for my practice that is flexible, yet still carries the benefit of being a routine…meaning you can reflect on progress made or changes in feeling over time.
Here it is:
Connect – Enter the state of Jam Jong. Become present in your body by feeling each part and the whole and while integrating the frame. Extend your awareness into the six-surfaces and beyond. Focus your attention on feeling your body and the space around you as you assume your desired shape. Relax and let go with a deep breath and a big “aaaahhhhhhhhhhh”. Repeat as desired.
Elongate – Choose a shape to work with and adjust your frame accordingly, without disconnecting the frame (easier said than done). Briefly repeat the Connect process in the new shape. Use the whole body “pumping” action to stretch the shape without breaking the frame (again, easier said). For seasoned practitioners repeat this process sectionally to further elongate the shape until it cannot be maintained without breaking the frame. Briefly repeat the Connect procedure and repeat Elongations as desired with the same or a different shape.
Invigorate – Choose two shapes (for example #5 & #7). Take shape 1 while shifting to the front (or side) foot with a half-step) in a slow, relaxed, even fashion. Fold (continue the orbit) or connect the frame if necessary to ensure it is not broken then take shape 2 with a half-step in the same manner. Again fold or re-connect the frame and repeat. Gradually elongate the shape by stepping further and proportionally increase the size of the gesture. Gradually increase speed as well as elongate until repeating the process in a vigorous, extended, even explosive manner. As desired during this process change from half-steps to full-steps, side-steps, jump-steps, cross-steps, etc. as long as they are all based on the half-step DNA. Repeat as desired by increasing/decreasing elongation, changing speed, steps, shapes, etc.
Condense – When the desired number of repetitions, time or vigour is reached begin reversing the Invigorate process by executing the postures in a less elongated manner, taking shorter steps and slowing down the external rate of changing shape. Here is the tricky part, as you slow down outside retain at least some of the rate of change inside, the internal rate of change. Gradually reach a state where the external shape is not changing but the internal shape continues to orbit. From here you can return to the Invigorate process or continue to the next step, Release.
Release – Slow down the internal orbit gradually and let go. Stop “trying” to change from shape to shape internally and release tension from the frame by applying the Connect procedure very briefly but repeatedly. Then stop even the Connect procedure and just be. If you move you move, if you are still you are still just let go and become a third party observer of your own feeling state. Let your awareness dwell in the feeling state (Zen if you will) for a moment or longer if you can before letting your mind return to the past and future concerns it is so fond of.
Like any recipe this one can be adjusted to fit your taste, mood or needs at the time. It can be the basis for a long or very short session and the steps can be re-arranged or repeated as desired. Ideally the entire session should be one continuous expression of integrated strength where the internal mechanic regulates the external expression of all the shapes expressed.
Great post, thanks.
I’m working on my Yichuan steps. You mention jump steps. When I watch different Yichuan masters performing their Yichuan health dance, there’s often what looks like a “skip” mixed in with the basic forward and back step. However, I haven’t found it in any of the “formal” yichuan practices. Is that something that just comes after long practice as an individual style or feeling?
Basically the footwork is derived from the half step which can look like a skip when done quickly. The idea is that the weight is always transitioning between the two legs and never split or ‘double weighted’.